Rape victim's about-face raises furore in Philippines

When Suzette "Nicole" Nicolas accused a US soldier of raping her after they met in a bar at a former American naval base in the Philippines in November 2005, Filipinos from all walks of life rallied behind her.

world Updated: Mar 20, 2009 09:30 IST

When Suzette "Nicole" Nicolas accused a US soldier of raping her after they met in a bar at a former American naval base in the Philippines in November 2005, Filipinos from all walks of life rallied behind her.

The 24-year-old accountant also became a poster girl for activists calling for the abrogation of a Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington, which gives jurisdiction of US troops accused of committing crimes in the Asian country to the US government.

But more than two years after Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was sentenced to life in prison for the rape, Nicolas suddenly is singing a different tune, stirring a passionate debate about the case.

Last week, just before leaving for the United States on an immigrant visa, Nicolas issued a new affidavit to the Court of Appeals, which is currently reviewing Smith's conviction. It hinted she might have consented to having sex with the soldier.

Nicolas admitted that she had a drink too many during the night of Nov 1, 2005, and flirted with Smith at the Neptune Club in Subic Bay Freeport in the northern province of Zambales.

"With the amount of alcoholic drinks that I took, my low tolerance for alcohol and with only a slice of pizza all night, it dawned upon me that I may have possibly lost my inhibitions, became so intimate with Daniel Smith and did more than just dancing and talking with him like everyone else in the dance floor," she said in her five-page affidavit.

"My conscience continues to bother me, realising that I may have in fact been so friendly and intimate with Daniel Smith at the Neptune Club that he was led to believe that I was amenable to having sex with him or we just simply got carried away," she said.

"I would rather risk public outrage than do nothing to help the court in ensuring that justice is served," she added.

Nicolas, who now hopes to live quietly in the US, where she has an American fiance, also received 100,000 pesos ($2,061) from Smith, according to her former attorneys.

The turnaround has left Filipinos dumbfounded and many of them angry at Nicolas.

"Don't cry for her because she isn't worth the tears," an editorial in the English newspaper The Daily Tribune said, adding she "virtually sold her soul" for a measly amount of money and a hard-to-get US immigrant visa.

"She isn't worth it, having wrought so much damage to Filipino womanhood," it said.

Judge Benjamin Pozon, who heard the case and convicted Smith of the rape Dec 4, 2006, did not hide his dismay over Nicolas' new affidavit.

"I felt that she made a mockery of our judicial system," he said.

Pozon, however, said that Nicolas' retraction did not necessarily mean the Court of Appeals would reverse Smith's conviction and acquit him.

Emily De los Santos, the state prosecutor who handled the case, expressed confidence that the affidavit Nicolas submitted to the Court of Appeals would have little bearing on the case.

De los Santos said the affidavit was consistent with the theory of the prosecution that based on the evidence and testimonies by witnesses, Nicolas was too drunk to give consent to sex, therefore a rape occurred.

"She admitted that she was drunk so she could not have given consent to sex," De Los Santos said. "She did not say in her affidavit that she was not drunk during the incident in question."

"Her statement is not a recantation, it's an affirmation of our theory," she emphasised. "This (affidavit) is just hindsight of Nicole after three years of reflections."

Lawyer and law professor Harry Roque said Nicolas' recantation would also have no bearing in his group's efforts to have the Supreme Court declare the Visiting Forces Agreement unconstitutional.

Its petition stemmed from the refusal of the US government to turn over Smith to the custody of Philippine authorities despite a recent high court ruling that the convicted US serviceman should be imprisoned in a Philippine facility.

"We filed our petition separate and distinct from Nicole in our capacity as citizens suing to impugn an agreement that violates our constitution," he said.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon said Nicolas' affidavit has no bearing on the controversy on the differing positions between the US and the Philippines on the jurisdiction over Smith.

The continued refusal of the US to turn over Smith was a challenge to Philippine sovereignty, he said, and called for a resolution of the issue.

"There will always be the probability that the Nicole-Smith incident will happen again either in less or more gravity," he said.

For Maria Teresa Luis, who is applying to work as a nurse in California, Nicolas' turnaround did not help to create a good impression of Filipino women.

"The next time somebody lodges a complaint against American servicemen or any foreigners for that matter, it might be interpreted as just another stunt to get money from the accused or a means to get out of the country," she said.

First Published: Mar 20, 2009 09:27 IST